THE STATE OF NATE
I liked Nate Spears the very first time I met him. It was in the Spring of 2010 down in Fort Myers. Nate was living with my good friend, Jeff Natale during Spring Training. Nat was going to accompany my daughter Carly and me to dinner for her 14th birthday celebration. He asked me if he could bring Nate along and I figured, the more the merrier. We had a good time that night and I think Carly enjoyed being “in” on baseball banter beetween two players and her grizzled old dad. I expected to see Spears in Pawtucket, but it didn’t happen in 2010. After playing the year before in Triple A with the Iowa Cubs, Nate began his Red Sox career at Double A Portland. He had a great year with 20 homers, 82 RBI and a .272 batting average. The 104 runs he scored ranked 7th among all minor leaguers.
This Spring, Spears stuck with the parent club for all of Spring Training. In 28 games with the Red Sox, Spears impressed Terry Francona with his versatility, as well as his .290 batting average (18-62) and 9 RBI. the 4 time minor league All Star (2004, 05, 08, 10) earned an Opening Day roster spot in Pawtucket and has been an important part of the club that is making a bid for the postseason. He approaches the game with a child-like enthusiasm and in the world of big-time athletes, jaded by their success and all the trappings, it is very refreshing.
On the current PawSox roadtrip, Spears homered in back to back games. The latest was a leadoff shot in the tenth inning against first place Lehigh Valley. It temporarily put the Sox in front, but they couldn’t hold on and lost 8-7. Spears talked about his tater. “I was looking for a good pitch and (Michael) Schwimer threw me a fastball and I put a good swing on it.” Spears wasn’t necessarily thinking “home run”, but it did cross his mind. “I was thinking if he gave me something good, I’d take an aggressive swing. I put the barrel on it and it happened to go out.” Spears has 7 home runs this season and feels he knows why he is having a little more success. “I’m starting to play a little more now. I’ve been healthy the last couple of weeks and my swing is starting to feel good.”
People would be surprised to know that every player at this time of the year, no matter the position, is at least a little banged up. Spears says it’s part of the game. “This game’ s a grind. you have to take every day and do whatever you can to keep your body healthy.”
Despite the daily grind, Spears admits that he likes being in the chase for the I.L. crown. “Winning is fun. To make the playoffs and be in a playoff atmosphere is great. You go into the season wanting to make the playoffs. It’s what everyone looks forward to. An extra couple of weeks of playing. We’re going to go out there every day and give it our all.”
One relationship that catches your eye almost is immediately is that between Spears and 21 year old shortstop Jose Iglesias. Nate took the young Cuban under his wing last season when they met in Portland.”We clicked instantly last year when I signed with the Red Sox. Right away in Spring Training. We became roommates on the road. I got a chance to teach him a lot of his English. It’s been fun. Having him back in the lineup at short, it’s great. You can’t find a better shortstop out there than him. It’s like having a Big League shortstop playing here in Triple A. It’s fun.”
Anyone who has listened to Hyder and Hoard for any length of time knows that one of our favorite topics is food. We were greatly anticipating our visit on Thursday night to “Emerils’ Italian Table”, one of Chef Emeril Lagasses’ restaurants. This one is in the Sands Casino in Bethlehem Pennsylvania. Hate to say it because I’m a huge fan of his, but the food was average, at best. I’ve had many better Italian meals on Federal Hill in Providence or even at places like Buca di Beppo in Seekonk or, believe it or not, Uncle Tony’s on Newport Avenue, near the ballpark. The Salumi was the highlight. An assortment of meats and cheeses with bread and olives. My salad was bland, as was my Veal Parmesean. They didn’t serve my favorite beverage. The waiter talked me into a Czechoslovakian version, in his words. If I had to move to the Czech Republic, I’d give up beer for good. Anyway, I think Emeril wouldn’t be pleased if he happened by. The place could use a little “Essence”. I do not recommend. As Dan would say. “Two gigantic thumbs down.”